The One Mistake That Almost Killed Our Fundraiser

I have participated in some great nonprofit events over the years; ones that have successfully raised funds, energized the nonprofit’s donor base, and showcased the organization’s mission to a broader audience. But those aren’t the only goals a small nonprofit should keep in mind.

Events can be a costly way to fundraise, both financially and in manpower. So, to make them worth your while, you need to plan to leverage the event to launch relationships with new donors. In most cases, the most valuable item you can raise at an event is actually contact information. If you meet this objective, you might be able to turn a $25 ticket purchase into your next major donor.

Here is Molly’s story about how she became a victim of this common mistake and why it is so costly.


I’m Molly, director, impromptu event planner, and expert coffee connoisseur (out of necessity) for an animal shelter. I spent four straight weeks planning the most adorable fundraising event: The Pooch Parade!

Dog owners would dress up their furry companions in the most outrageous outfits they could find and show them off during the parade. Afterward, everyone would meet at the park for lunch.

Sponsors covered almost all of the expenses, so we had a great chance of meeting our goal of $20,000 in donations.

I felt like everything was coming together. I had forgotten what weekends were like, I hadn’t slept in over a week, AND I had developed a serious addiction to black coffee, but I knew it was all worth it.

When the event day finally arrived, I practically jumped out of bed!

Folks were already camped out on the street corners by the time I got there. I did a quick headcount. I had about 300 parade participants ready to go and supporters lined the street. Not too bad!

When the clock struck 10:00 a.m., our participants were off. Pooches of all shapes and sizes strutted their stuff down the street. There was a pug disguised as Yoda, a Dachshund dressed like Orphan Annie, and an Oompa Loompa bulldog. The crowd cheered every time a new dog walked by. Laughter and awww’s filled the air!

While I watched, one of our sponsors came over to congratulate me on the turn out.

“I can’t believe how many people participated! I even saw the community bank’s president out there with his poodle. You’re going to have your hands full writing all of those thank you notes,” she joked.

Holy fuzz buckets… I should do thank-you notes! I had forgotten all about that. And I would definitely want to personally thank that bank president. But how in the heck was I supposed to send them thank-you notes? I hadn’t bothered to collect any information.

I ran to my car to grab clipboards and paper, then handed them to my volunteers and asked them to run around to get names and emails from each participant as they crossed the finish line.

While everyone congregated around the lunch area, I took a moment to try to greet as many people as I could. I knew about half of the crowd, but the others were all new supporters. I wondered what other potential future donors I was missing.

When I was planning, I was just aiming to reach our fundraising goal at the event. It never occurred to me that I would have so many new and valuable participants that could be potential major donors. How could I forget something so important? I prayed that my volunteers were able to get contact information so that I could at least thank people for coming.

The crowd was beginning to clear out, so I huddled my volunteers together to collect their clipboards. Out of the original headcount of 300, my volunteers were able to get 160 contacts.

It wasn’t everyone, but it was better than nothing. I would do my best, thank as many as I could, and track down the information of that bank president.

We had successfully raised $23,000 between sponsorships, lunch tickets, and donations. Unfortunately, a lot of people had dropped cash in the donation boxes, so I had no way of knowing who donated to thank them for their contribution.

Yes, we met our fundraising goal, but forgetting to track who attended and donated almost ruined my relationship with new donors.

I had to make some serious changes for next time. After all, you never know when your next major donor will walk his poodle in your pooch parade.

Next week, I’ll share one more mistake I made at the event that put us in a financial pinch.


I serve as a board member for a few nonprofits. One of these was a new organization just getting off the ground and they made the same mistake as Molly. They hosted an amazing fundraising event. The energy in the room was high and they successfully raised funds. But the director hadn’t thought about the potential at the event for building donor relationships. He wasn’t planning to send thank-you notes, he didn’t track who donated, and he didn’t collect contact information from anyone who attended.

He realized the value of sending thank-you notes to kick-start a donor relationship as soon as the event ended, so he had to sit down and make a list of everyone he could remember at the event. He spent hours tracking down contact information or reaching out through Facebook to say thank you. Since he had only collected donations by passing a giving plate, he had not tracked who donated cash, so he couldn’t even thank most individuals for giving. It was a costly mistake.

Short-term vs. long-term results

Nonprofit fundraising events can successfully reach short-term results like meeting a specific fundraising need or building awareness. They also serve to get new people excited and connected with your organization; but attending your fundraiser should only be the start of that connection.

To succeed at building long-term results, you need to include the goal of getting attendees to further connect with you after the event. Carefully plan a way to easily and effectively collect contact information, track donations, and plan for how you want to follow up with attendees after the event.

For those of you who like to do things the old-fashioned way, here are some easy ways to collect information and donations.


Not sure what information you should collect? Use this free sample of a sign-in sheet and donation form.


Take your event digital

There are a growing number of software options out there so you don’t have to leave with a stack of business cards or enter 200 names from a spreadsheet.

To digitally check in attendees, Eventbrite allows you to create events and manage attendees for free, but does charge transaction fees if you sell tickets through the app. Event Farm offers more customization and design features and also allows you to use their mobile check-in app for free if you have less than 100 guests, otherwise it is $75 for larger events.

Just want to capture email addresses? Set up your e-newsletter sign-up form on your tablet and raffle a prize for all who subscribe.

Not everyone carries cash or checks any more. To maximize your giving, have a plan in place to securely accept credit card donations. An easy option is a tablet at the registration table with Square or your secure, online donation form. You can also provide the website address to your online donation form on the event program so people can donate using their smart phones. You can even set up a mobile option using a vendor like mGood for attendees to text you their pledges and receive a link to your donation form.


How to start building long-term results

Now that you have gathered as much information as you can at your event, you need to encourage attendees to further engage with you and your organization.

This can start with something as simple as a thank-you card. If they didn’t donate at the event and were simply a guest, you can still thank them for attending, but also include a link to your online donation form in case they need it.

Then, look through the names and identify new contacts that may be potential major or recurring donors. Create a follow-up plan to gradually engage them by mailing them your newsletter, sharing a volunteer opportunity, inviting them to your next event, or even sending them a request for an end-of-the-year donation. This will ultimately help make these time-intensive events worth your while.

What methods do you use to strengthen your long-term event results? Please share in the comments section below, I would love to hear them.

Founder and CEO of Aplos Software, Tim has always been an entrepreneur at heart with a passion for nonprofits. After starting his career as a CPA, he moved on to serve as a church executive pastor and helped start several small nonprofits. These helped develop a deep appreciation for the unique challenges of nonprofits and churches, as well as a desire to provide the easy-to-use tools they need.

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